Social Protest 101
This email is a limited compilation of helpful advice and links for everyone
planning on attending the march and rally this Saturday. Some of the information
may be useful for other events as well. I encourage everyone to read through
this and also visit the links at the bottom for legal, medical, safety
Preparing for Action
This rally is short and will be easy going, so intensive preparation is
not required. Still, there are some basic steps that should be followed
in preparation. It is vital to wear proper clothing, eat well and get lots
of rest and water before you go to the rally. All of these are scarce once
demonstrations heat up. Yes, this seems like common sense, but many activists
often succumb to the stress that occurs without these simple steps.
Rest up the night before. Don't stay out too late. Save that energy
for singing, chanting, and marching.
Bring an ample amount of water at least 32 ounces per person
and sip it frequently, even on cold days. Dehydration is one of the most
common and dangerous adversities encountered at demonstrations. High energy
snacks are also good.
It's a good idea to have some money on you, but no more than you need
for food, transportation and phone calls.
CLOTHING AND HYGIENE
BTW, weather conditions look great at wunderground.com -- "Mostly sunny.
High in the middle or upper 50s." Dress appropriately, and keep in
mind that in the coming months it will be critical to prepare for for cold,
rain, snow, ice, etc. Warm clothes, ponchos, blankets, warm drinks, and
snacks are very important. Hypothermia can set in at relatively warm temperatures
if other conditions are right (or wrong).
Generally, clothing that fully covers your skin, a hat, hood, or head
covering, and closed shoes are best to protect you from any elements, natural
or manmade, that can come in the way of a demonstrator.
Staying Safe & Sensible in Action
It is often good to be prepared for potentially hazardous circumstances
at public demonstrations that can upset the intent of an event. These can
range from someone taking a fall during a march or having a seizure, to
rude motorists throwing objects, to angry counterprotesters, or even involve
police violence. While there is little reason to expect that any of these
issues will be major obstacles to the success of this rally, it is prudent
to hope for the best and prepare for worse.
That being said, below you will find some generally applicable suggestions
to help you stay safe and effective in the streets.
Always have a safe space in mind. All demonstrators need to be aware of
a safe place to get to if a situation grows out of hand. You define "safe"
and "unsafe" for yourself. For some, safe is among the locked arms of fellow
activists, right on the front lines; but there's no shame in a lower threshold,
for any number of reasons. Safe spaces change depending on movement and
barriers by other demonstrators and the police, etc. In some cases they
include wide open spaces or public areas. Other times they may take the
form of an alleyway or similar hiding spot. There's no hard and fast rule
about finding a safe space, but the time to have one in mind is before
a tense situation arises.
HAVE A WAY OUT
Similarly, you should always have an exit in mind. Assess how to leave
a bad situation. Maybe it is best to be in a large group for protection.
But if the police are herding you like cattle, then the large crowd is
their focus and you may need to break up and leave in small groups.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
Use the buddy system and move in a group. If at all possible, make sure
to have a partner you can trust, to whom you will always stay close. That
way, at least one person always knows your whereabouts and condition. Working
in small groups of people, all of whom you know well and trust with your
own safety, is another important factor. Even if you are not part of an
organized affinity group with a plan of action, it is helpful to at least
be with folks you can rely on. This is especially true for families with
kids. Also, if your group gets split up, it can be helpful to designate
a meeting spot. It is also helpful to have a phone number that kids can
call if they get lost.
Remain aware of social dynamics and dangers. You need to know what is going
on - not just in view, but around the corners and a few blocks away. Pay
attention to the mood of the crowd and the police. Certain actions like
property destruction and violence will likely be caused by or result in
violent behavior on the part of police. Be aware of police movement and
different groups of protesters entering or leaving an area. Try to monitor
the vibes and focuses of friends and foes at all times.
SCOUT IT OUT
To know what is going on out of view, it is useful for demonstrators to
be part of a group that regularly sends out scouts to investigate what
the police and other demonstrators are up to. Since the situation at a
dynamic protest will change frequently and rapidly, scouts need to check
around and report back often. It's a good idea to appoint a pair of group
members as scouts, so they can operate together, and you'll know the job
is covered at any given time, as well as who is doing it. Consider the
use of cell phone, secure cell coms, and walkie- talkies. But expect they
may be monitored or sometimes disrupted by the police.
If you didn't see it, it didn't happen. It's a common sight at demonstrations
for someone to approach a group of activists shouting, "The riot cops are
coming!" As often as not, of course, there are no police coming at all.
Acting on bad information is disruptive at best, and often dangerous. All
critical information needs to be verified. If the person conveying info
can't claim to have witnessed something directly, or if he or she is a
stranger, then that information is unreliable. Never pass along information
that you haven't already confirmed. Likewise, it's a bad idea to convey
your conclusions about something based on evidence you've observed or otherwise
confirmed. Instead, inform people of the information you're basing your
own conclusions on, and let them decide for themselves how to evaluate
Assume the riot cops may be coming. While acting on rumors and
fear mongering can be disruptive and dangerous, it shouldn't be surprising
when the "authorities" do decide to blockade, surround, penetrate or break
up a demonstration. This happens frequently, and the key to not being caught
off guard is to know we are still living in a police state.
Don't panic; help others stay calm. Sometimes at actions, the situation
grows just plain frightening. But panic reduces critical judgment, adapting
and coping abilities, and it can spread rapidly. Our best defense in a
crisis is our collective cool - keeping each other centered & focused.
If you can't stay focused and centered, then you need to quit the demo
to chill. Similarly, if someone else can't be calmed down, they need to
Be prepared to be photographed. If you don't want to be photographed
by the police or media at an action, the only sure antidote is to not attend.
There is simply no guarantee that you will not be later identified, almost
no matter how you attempt to disguise yourself. Assume some photographers
are working for the police. Take measures appropriate to your own level
of comfort or concern.
Know your options, and what you and your comrades intend to do, in case
of arrest. This document cannot cover the various paths you may choose
in case you or someone in your group is detained or arrested during an
action. See the links below for this advice.
In Case of Injury
Almost inevitably, people will get hurt at mass gatherings. Even when there
is no violence to speak of, illnesses related to weather, hunger, dehydration
and exhaustion are common occurrences.
NOTE: While the below information is still useful, the presence of grassroots
action medics has not yet been confirmed. Keep this in mind.
The absolute most important action to take when there is a significant
injury of any kind is to get a trained and equipped medic to the scene
as soon as possible. The simplest and best way to do this is to call out,
"MEDIC!" If none is within earshot, there's a good chance the call will
be relayed through the crowd until a medic can be contacted. Otherwise,
you should send someone to find a medic.
Street medics can always be identified by red cross or star of life/star
of resistance insignia worn prominently on their persons and/or gear. You
are encouraged to verify that activists so- designated are trained and
competent. Some medics, such as affinity group medics, may not be wearing
insignia. Official emergency medical services personnel, such as EMTs/paramedics,
will usually not be available in the vicinity of "insecure areas," though
for severe injuries or illnesses their attention is almost always preferred.
No injury or illness is too elementary or too serious to call for a
medic - let him or her be the one to decide.
It is still the case, though, that treatment of chemical weapons contamination
can cause harm if it is not carried out precisely, by a trained "street
first aider". This hazard is compounded by the fact that there is a significant
amount of misinformation concerning first aid which is at present floating
around the Internet and other activist rumor mills. Some of that misinformation
is downright dangerous.
These links provide more comprehensive information than is provided above.
I especially urge everyone to check out at least one of the legal web sites
for info on police encounters and your legal rights. This may never be
necessary, but it is a good practical refresher on civics that can be used
in many situations.
Of particular interest is this free,
printable pocket card on police encounters and your rights, in Spanish
Just Cause Law Collective
This is a very comprehensive site by a west coast mobile legal team
that "provides support to activists at every stage of nonviolent political
resistance." It includes info on legal rights and observing, solidarity
tactics, and activism. I highly recommend it for anyone involved in a public
The National Lawyers' Guild
Here you'll find the NLG's latest "Right to Know" pamphlet, with all
sorts of information about your legal rights, in English and Spanish.
A newer site, but lots of great links and stuff. Most of the above
advice was taken from this site and modified for our purposes.
Black Cross Collective
"First Aid for Radicals and Activists" This is a very informative site,
including info on demo prep, first aid, and aftercare.
Palestine Red Crescent Society
Related, but not of immediate use.
LOTS OF LOVE AND STRENGTH TO ALL OF YOU. I'M VERY PROUD OF EACH ONE
OF YOU. LET US STAND TOGETHER FOR PEACE THROUGH POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND
Here is a set of guidelines often used by groups engaging in nonviolent
We will carry no weapons.
We will not vandalize.
We will not use or carry alcohol or illegal drugs.
We will not swear or use insulting language.
We will not run in public or otherwise make threatening motions.
We will not assault - either verbally or physically - those who oppose
or disagree with us, even if they assault us.
We will protect those who oppose us from insult or attack.
We will honor the emergency decisions of the empowered coordinators and
Our attitude as conveyed through words, symbols, and actions will be one
of respect towards all.
We know this action is part of an ongoing, protracted campaign.
We will return to our communities and renew our work for peace with justice.